Ofsted urged to "build faith" in inspection complaints process

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Ofsted’s proposals to reform the way it handles complaints about inspection are welcome but do not go far enough, school leaders have said.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is urging the watchdog to do more to “build faith” in its complaints system.

It comes as Ofsted extended the consultation period over its proposed changes to complaints procedures.

Among the proposals, Ofsted plans to change inspection procedures to allow schools five working days to review their draft report and submit any comments about issues of factual accuracy and the inspection process.

It has also said it will consider and respond to formal complaints from schools before publishing the final inspection report – if these complaints are submitted “promptly”.

The consultation document (Ofsted, 2020) states: “So that the publication of a report is not overly delayed, if an inspected provider wants to raise a formal complaint, they will need to submit this within two working days of them being issued with their final report. If an inspected provider submits a formal complaint within this period, we will withhold publication of the inspection report until we have considered and responded to the complaint.”

However, Ofsted plans no changes to how its internal reviews and the final appeals are run, which has led to criticism from ASCL.

Currently, Ofsted runs a three-step process for dealing with complaints.

  1. A complaint is made and dealt with during the inspection.
  2. A formal complaint is made following the inspection.
  3. If the school is dissatisfied with the way in which the complaint was handled, an internal review is conducted, with the eventual option of a referral to an independent adjudication service.

It is the third step that ASCL says needs to change because currently both the internal review and independent adjudication cannot overturn a judgement. In its formal response to the Ofsted consultation, ASCL says that this fact makes it a “toothless process” (ASCL, 2020).

The response states: “Holding an internal review at step 3, with the inclusion of an external sector representative, is welcome but it appears to be a toothless process: it can draw conclusions about whether the process was followed at step 1 and 2, but it does not appear to be able to issue an amended inspection judgement or even to instruct a re-inspection. Many school and college leaders lack faith in Ofsted’s complaints process as a result.

“This is further exacerbated by the lack of an external authority with the power to change judgements or order a re-inspection. The Independent Complaints Adjudication Service can do neither of these things. It can make recommendations to Ofsted, but in the context of the high-stakes judgements made about schools this is insufficient.”

In February, ASCL’s inspection specialist Stephen Rollett wrote in SecEd, Headteacher Update's sister title, advising school leaders how to make a complaint about Ofsted inspection. In his article, he acknowledged that “popular consensus holds that it is almost impossible to get Ofsted to overturn a judgement” (Rollett, 2020).

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton echoes this view, saying that “there is a perception among school and college leaders that it is extremely difficult to successfully challenge an inspection judgement”.

Mr Barton welcomed the proposals to improve consistency in the handling of complaints and to withhold publication of reports pending investigation of complaints.

However, he added: “We are … disappointed that Ofsted seems to assume that the upper end of the process is fit-for-purpose. We do not agree. It flies in the face of natural justice to have a review system which cannot actually overturn the original judgement. It would go a long way to building greater trust in the system if there was an external authority with the power to change the outcome.”

Elsewhere, the consultation proposes a more consistent post-inspection timeline, including providing schools with their draft report within 18 working days of the inspection and issuing final reports within 30 working days.

The Ofsted consultation deadline was due to end on March 31, but has been extended by four weeks to April 30.

  • ASCL: Consultation proposals for changes to Ofsted's post-inspection processes and complaints handling, March 2020: https://bit.ly/39yaFd5
  • Ofsted: Changes to Ofsted’s post-inspection processes and complaints handling: proposed improvements, consultation closes at 11:45pm, April 30: https://bit.ly/2w4hwND
  • Rollett/SecEd: How to make a complaint over an Ofsted inspection, February 2020: https://bit.ly/2wSXO82

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